Israel weighs barring Americans, quarantine for Israelis coming back from US
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Israel weighs barring Americans, quarantine for Israelis coming back from US

Official says government blocking move thus far over fears it could harm economic, political ties with United States; National Security Council to take over coronavirus decisions

An illustrative photo of a United Airlines plane takes off from Ben Gurion International Airport on June 18, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of a United Airlines plane takes off from Ben Gurion International Airport on June 18, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israel on Friday was reportedly considering barring entry to citizens of a number of additional countries and forcing returning Israelis to self-quarantine, including from the United States, amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry has been pushing to add the US to a list of destinations from where travelers entering Israel must be quarantined for 14 days, but other unspecified ministries were blocking the move over concerns it could harm political and economic ties with Washington, an unnamed senior government official told Hebrew media.

Amid tensions between various branches of government over how to handle the crisis, Economy Minister Eli Cohen told Channel 12 that Israel’s National Security Council would begin coordinating the response to the virus from Friday.

Cohen noted there were tensions between the Health Ministry’s desire for very strict measures and concerns by others that the moves could deeply impact Israel’s economy and political situation.

Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen attends a party faction meeting in Tel Aviv on April 1, 2019. (Flash90)

In the case of restrictions on travel from the US, there were fears over how the Trump administration would react to such a decision, according to the Ynet news site.

A diplomatic official said a decision on the matter would be made next week.

“There are so many countries under discussion. The implications are being weighed, but above all it is important to protect the health of Israeli citizens,” the official said.

On Tuesday, Director General of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told Channel 12 that Israel is getting “close to the point where we’ll have to do something” about people coming from the US.

There are fears that the US is not taking adequate steps to contain the spread, with not enough testing kits immediately available and doubts over the ability of the uninsured to be able to afford tests and treatment.

US President Donald Trump on Friday signed an $8.3 billion measure to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than a dozen people in the US and infected more than 200.

It was possible that if the US was added to the list, Americans would not be banned like citizens of other countries, but would also be asked to self-quarantine, Friday’s reports said.

According to Channel 13 news, Israel is expected to announce Sunday that foreigners coming from Britain and the Netherlands would be denied entry to the country.

Israelis returning from there would be required to quarantine at home for two weeks, the report said.

A man walks past a screen displaying arriving flights at Ben Gurion Airport on March 4, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Beginning Friday morning, Israel banned non-nationals from Germany, Austria, France, Spain and Switzerland. Israelis returning from those countries were instructed Wednesday to enter self-quarantine for a period of 14 days after their last day in those nations. The decision applied retroactively to all who have come from those countries in the last 14 days.

Israel had already banned entry to foreigners who were in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelled all Israelis recently in those areas to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Israel was the first country to urge its citizens to refrain from international travel entirely because of the outbreak, which started in China in December and has since infected nearly 100,000 in about 85 nations and claimed over 3,200 lives, almost all of them in China.

There have been 21 confirmed cases of the virus in Israel, including a bus driver whose condition on Friday was deteriorating.

Between 50,000 and 80,000 Israelis are under self-quarantine and large events such as concerts and sporting matches have been canceled due to directives issued by the Health Ministry.

Over 100,000 people have been infected worldwide and nearly 3,400 killed by the virus since it emerged in central China in December.

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